Short on time?

Get essay writing help

Systematic Issues in US Causing Youth Violence among Gang Cultures in Spain, Portugal and Latin America

Words: 3769
Pages: 8
This essay sample was donated by a student to help the academic community. Papers provided by EduBirdie writers usually outdo students' samples.

“Most people join a gang because they feel disconnected, alone, alienated. They just want to belong, to feel valued, to have a purpose. Looking back, is there any surprise why I joined MS-13? My ma worked around the clock, I was alone a lot and everybody around me was from a gang”, – Gerardo Lopez, ex MS-13 member [1: TEDx Talks, 2018].

Gerardo’s case is certainly not an isolated one. It is estimated that since the turn of the 21st century, gang membership has been on the rise. When talking about gangs, the logical place to start is with the question: what is a gang? This is, of course, a contested topic but the U.S. Department of Justice defines a gang as “an association of three or more individuals… whose members collectively identify themselves by adopting a group identity which they use to create an atmosphere of fear or intimidation frequently…. [whose] purpose, in part, is to engage in criminal activity….”. Once we have understood the definition of a gang, the next logical step is to ask why young people become members. There is much debate about the various factors that cause young people to choose this path but for the purposes of this essay, I will focus on how issues of identity and belonging can lead young people, specifically Latinos, to join gangs. Many people build their identity during their adolescence and their experiences during that period have a profound impact on their future sense of identity. But what specifically is identity? Hogg and Abrams (1988) define identity as “people’s concepts of who they are, of what sort of people they are, and how they relate to others”, whereas James D. Fearon (1999) dives deeper and defines it as: “A set of attributes, beliefs, desires, or principles of action that a person thinks distinguish her in socially relevant ways and that (a) the person takes special pride in; (b) the person takes no special pride in, but which so orient her behavior that she would be at a loss about how to act and what to do without them; or (c) the person feels she could not change even if she wanted to” [2: Egley Jr, Howell and Harris, 2014], [3: U.S. Department of Justice, 2015].

Belonging is one of the most important factors of adolescence. To understand the impact that belonging can have on a young person, it is important to understand the meaning of it. Whilst also a contested topic, Goodenew & Grady (1993) defined the sense of belonging as “the extent to which individuals feel personally accepted, respected, included and supported” within their social environment. Based on these definitions of identity and belonging, it is clear to see how and why issues of these types can cause young people to make poor choices. In this essay, I will explore some of the main yet varying arguments concerning the role that issues of identity and belonging play in the process of young Latinos in America joining gangs.

As previously mentioned, adolescence is an important period in the construction of identity and an individual’s situation and experiences in adolescence impact their future identity. Therefore, elements such as childhood, living situation and schooling become of vital importance when constructing identities. Issues within these elements can lead to difficulty in forming an individual identity. In terms of Latinos, many are raised by immigrant parents who may be recent arrivals and may not have integrated into American society yet, even if their child was born in the U.S. Many migrants work in low-paid or unskilled jobs in order to survive and live in areas that are poor or segregated from the rest of society with other migrants. This can create various problems which impact the development of a Latino’s identity. Initial problems arise during childhood and the values bestowed upon young Latinos whilst growing up.

The children of migrant parents are torn between two cultures. The culture instilled in them by their parents, i.e. Latino culture, and the culture of their recipient or native country, i.e. America. Whilst, in part, a stereotype, machismo is an important part of Latino culture. Young boys are supposed to grow up to be the man of the house and the provider for the family. This is learned at a younger age when there is no father figure in the household. During childhood, and particularly early adolescence, “males and females (and important adults in their lives) are often especially vigilant to ensure gender role conformity”. Young Latinos need to be seen as someone in charge of both themselves and their futures, someone in control, someone tough. The gang is the perfect environment to identify as this, allowing them to earn money, respect and power [4: ACT for Youth Upstate Center of Excellence, 2002].

This is fueled further by the living situation of many young Latinos. As previously mentioned, many live in poor or segregated areas with other migrants, otherwise known as barrios. These barrios often ‘feature concentrations of alienated, disaffected, and often angry young people; few-if-any adult role models who portray economic or professional success; …and few recreational facilities designed to serve the needs of youths’. This means that there is no-one around for young Latinos to reinforce a positive identity, no-one to demonstrate that fully integrating into American society is possible and no-one to show that social mobility is achievable. There are little-to-no positive ways for young people to spend their time other than to hang around on the streets, where they are given a bad name by the public and law enforcement. This lack of role models and recreational facilities, in turn, causes young Latinos to form their identities around the norms of those around them, i.e. uneducated, poor, working-class citizens that are alienated from society [5: Biddel, 2014, p.33].

The limitation of the barrio continues by impacting the education of its young residents. In the U.S., “neighborhood quality and school quality are strongly linked…, which means that these youth attend schools of poor quality with less skilled teachers and fewer advanced programs”. Their educational experience is plagued with problems, making it difficult for them to see how it is possible for them to finish high school, never mind aiming for higher and attending university. Even those receiving good grades are kept at a lower level because of a lack of advanced programs in these schools [6: Zambrana, 2011, p.115.].

Latino youth in barrios are surrounded by adults and other youth who have not advanced in society, have not been accepted by society and who all follow similar norms or have similar attitudes, beliefs and desires. They have few if any role models to show them how to advance and therefore they follow the examples set for them during the construction of identity and fall victim to their circumstances. They use the gang as an opportunity to prove their masculinity and as a way to identify with those around them, causing the barrio to become a breeding ground for this toxic behavior.

However, it is not only our immediate surroundings which shape the way in which we form our identity. The concept of interpellation perfectly describes how society affects identity construction. Interpellation, in simple terms, means that we are defined by the way in which we are perceived. We may have an identity and a sense of who we are but we also behave in response to how we are seen by others. This means that the stereotypes and preconceptions about Latinos in America play a role in the formation of their individual identities, fueling the problems caused by their immediate surroundings and personal circumstances [7: Althusser, Jameson & Brewster, 2001].

Save your time!
We can take care of your essay
  • Proper editing and formatting
  • Free revision, title page, and bibliography
  • Flexible prices and money-back guarantee
Place Order

An example of this is society’s view of the barrio. Migrant communities in America are somewhat banished to these poor barrios, but poverty is seen as a consequence of an individuals’ or an individual communities’ own ‘”stupidity”, “laziness”, “irresponsibility”, “criminality” or other supposed character defects. Society tells residents of the barrio that it is their fault that they do not have enough money, access to adequate schooling or opportunities to advance when, in reality, this is not the case. Latinos feel as though they have to adopt the same identity as those around them as the stereotypes affecting their social identity also affect the way in which they are given the opportunity to advance. Certain stereotypes like all Latinos are immigrants or that none of them speak English or have migrated to America to get handouts from the government “affect the discriminatory way in which public policies are designed and implemented to decrease their access to public resources”. Society systematically denies Latinos the opportunity to advance, resigning them to a life in the barrio, and in the case of many young people, a life of crime in a gang [8: Biddel, 2014, p.37.] [9: Zambrana, 2011, p.6].

It is not only other members of society that interpellate this community; the media plays a fundamental role in creating a stereotypical identity of Latinos. The media only presents negative aspects such as gang membership and poor racialized immigration status rather than representing the achievements of Latinos such as entrepreneurship and college graduations. Young people already believe that there is little opportunity for advancement due to their social location and their treatment within society as criminals and good for nothings and the media only reinforces these stereotypes. In the minds of some Latinos, if they are already being stereotyped as gang members, why shouldn’t they just become one?

All of these stereotypes that impact young people’s construction of identity also heavily impact on their sense of belonging to American society as both individuals and as members of the Latino community. Regardless of race or ethnicity, young people want to fit in with their immediate surroundings and community. They try hard to make friends and they adapt easily to the people they are around – shaping elements of their identity around the people they spend the most time with. This, of course, applies to Latinos, yet this need to belong is heightened as they are already aware of their differences from the rest of society. This incessant need to belong is usually associated with girls and women, however, these same feelings exist in both boys and men. The reasoning behind this need to belong was demonstrated by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory which poses that everyone has a hierarchy of basic needs that, in order to reach positive results, must be met. One of these basic needs is “belonging and love”, which involves a need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance among social groups. He also claims that fulfilling these basic needs is the biggest motivation and if these are not met, a person tries to fulfill them in any way possible, no matter the consequences. Using this theory, it can be said that some young Latinos have no other choice but to join a gang if they are unable to find a friendship group to which they can belong and which offers them the same level of support as they believe the gang would. The gang is seen as a place for them to develop close friendships with like-minded people. Niobe Way (2004) expands on this by stating that “teenage boys yearn for close and loyal friends and struggle to find and maintain these close ties. Latino boys consider a close friend someone who will protect them, show concern, and help them from getting into trouble”. This ties in with another main attraction of the gang, which is joining for protection, but it also shows the attractive sense of belonging that a gang can give to a young Latino – a friendship group who will accept, respect, include and support them [10: Maslow, 1943.].

Having a group to belong to and identify with is of vital importance for Latinos, particularly those born outside of the U.S, as it gives them a support network and helps them to feel less isolated and alienated. Even something as simple as wearing a gang’s colors or using a gang’s signs enables young people to feel as though they have someone to protect and support them. They are now a part of something bigger than just their small circle. They now belong to a group who are acknowledged by a whole community and by society, be it feared or respected, and feel as though they always have someone to have their back and watch out for them. As Vigil explains, ‘”the family-like functions and new cultural customs” of gangs foster “friendship and mutual trust” and ”… learning to back each other up during times of trouble cement the bonds between youths in a gang, a type of fictive kinship network”. Being in a gang enables these young Latinos to create a society, no matter how small, in which they are accepted, respected, included and supported [11: Wolseth, 2009, p.66].

As mentioned previously, the concept of interpellation explains how society’s stereotypes of Latinos impact their identity construction but it also extends to their sense of acceptance by and belonging to society. Latinos in today’s America are far from being accepted for who they are. Society frequently demonstrates to them that they do not belong – even to those who are U.S. citizens and grew up in the same country, educated by the same system and lead similar lifestyles. Latinos are frequently seen as foreigners or illegals and even those who are legal residents of the United States do not have the same rights as citizens and this, in turn, has deep consequences for their “economic, social, and political opportunities”. Unfortunately, in the United States, “citizenship and residential status define membership and belonging” to society. Since all Latinos are stereotyped as illegal immigrants, they are not seen as members of society and have to constantly validate their right as residents or citizens to be in the country, further distancing them from the feeling of belonging [12: Gracia & De Greiff, 2000, p.11], [13: Gutiérrez Nájera, 2010, p.76].

This alienation from society is furthered by the existence of a large culture of institutional racism in America. Institutional racism is the “systematic denial of a group of people to the power, privilege, and prestige that is available within an existing society. The effects of institutional racism include issues of access to power (social and economic), resources, as well as affiliation”. I have previously looked at how this type of treatment affects Latinos’ identity construction and perception of belonging. However, institutional racism is not something that is in effect simply in the streets and neighborhoods of cities. It extends to the highest level in the United States – the government. It is common knowledge that the current President has many problems with the influx of Latinos arriving in the U.S. He has explicitly expressed his desire to build a wall on the Mexican border to combat illegal immigration and has taken drastic measures to disrupt the movement of these migrants such as the family separation policy, treating them as less than human [14: Spergel, 1995, p.161].

Trump is not only trying to build walls around his country; he is building walls within his nation: those between Latinos and other members of society. The most powerful person in the most powerful land is systematically telling society not to accept these people and that they do not belong. He openly stated in his State of the Union address that: “for decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They have allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of innocent lives”. He also openly criticized and called out members of the brutal Latino Mala Salvatrucha gang, more commonly known as MS-13. Four young members of this gang in Brentwood, New York, were charged with the murder of two of their classmates, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, in 2016 and in his address, Trump stated that “many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors – and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school”. By saying this, he generalizes all immigrants as gang members, stating that they are all dangerous, problematic and we should stop allowing them into the country. Society is simply following the example set for them by their President [15: Trump, 2018].

This problem is made worse by the fact that there is little to no-one in these high positions of power who are able to show young Latinos that this is not their reality – or that their reality can change. The young people who live in barrios do not have role models in their neighborhood, neither do they have role models in the rest of society. Latinos’ denial to power is evident in the make-up of the current government. Out of 50 Governors, only 2 are Latino. Out of 100 Senators, only 4 are Latino and finally out of 435 members of the House of Representatives, only 40 are Latino. Young Latinos are systematically being told time and again that, because of their background and ethnicity, they are not good enough to belong to the U.S. and that there is no room for them to grow. They have little-to-no role models to base themselves off and few people in high positions of power to stick up for them and tell them that they are valued members of society who deserve every right as residents and citizens. Is it any wonder that many resign themselves to their fate and turn to a life of crime in which they can gain power, respect, a shared identity and a sense of belonging to something bigger than just themselves?

In conclusion, it is clear to see how issues of identity and belonging encourage or push young Latinos towards joining a gang. Problems arising in childhood through their living situations, schooling and a clash of cultures cause young Latinos to identify with others around them, many of whom are already members of a gang or alienated from society in such a way that they are unable to show young people the opportunities that could be available to them. The stereotypes forced upon young Latinos cause them to feel more alienated and to see themselves the way that society sees them – as criminals and good for nothings. Joining a gang allows them to live up to the identity placed on them by society. This isolation causes them to seek out social groups to which they are allowed to belong. Once again, the gang provides a perfect opportunity for young Latinos to feel a part of something since society won’t allow them to integrate and belong. In the gang, young Latinos can build what they perceive to be solid friendships with like-minded people who will not judge them at every turn. In the gang, young Latinos can gain power, respect and they can become someone – something that society does not allow them to do. Finally, systematic alienation from the highest level pushes young Latinos further towards a life of crime.

Whilst identity and belonging are only two of the aspects making gang life attractive for young people, many of the other aspects, such as family trouble or the need for protection, strongly link in with an individual’s sense of identity and belonging. In my opinion, young Latinos will continue to join gangs until America accepts that they are a part of society and not just permanent foreigners. Young Latinos will continue to identify with gangs as, for many, it is all they know. More needs to be done to break the cycle and show that they are equal in all parts of society, be it education, politics or just simply as citizens or I fear that the gang epidemic will grow to uncontrollable levels.


  1. ACT for Youth Upstate Center of Excellence. (2002). Identity Formation In Adolescence. [Online]. New York. Cornell University. Available at: [Accessed 12. Jan. 2019].
  2. Althusser, Louis, Jameson, Fredric, & Brewster, Ben, ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Towards An Investigation)’, in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, (New York: New York University Press, 2001), pp.85-126. Available at: [Accessed 12. Jan. 2019].
  3. Biddle, B. J., The Unacknowledged Disaster – Youth Poverty and Educational Failure in America. (Rotterdam, Boston and Taipei: Sense Publications, 2014).
  4. Egley Jr, A., Howell, J.C. & Harris, M. (2014). Highlights of the 2012 National Youth Gang Survey. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 11. Jan. 2019].
  5. Fearon, J. D. (1999). What is identity (as we now use the word)?. [Online] Stanford, California. Stanford University. Available at: [Accessed 12. Jan. 2019].
  6. Goodenow, Carol, & Grady, Kathleen E., ‘The Relationship of School Belonging and Friends’ Values to Academic Motivation Among Urban Adolescent Students’, in The Journal of Experimental Education, 62(1), (Taylor & Francis Ltd., 1993), pp.60-71. Available at: – metadata_info_tab_contents [Accessed 12. Jan. 2019].
  7. Gracia, J.J.E. & De Greiff, P., Hispanics / Latinos in the United States: Ethnicity, Race and Rights. (New York and London: Routledge, 2000).
  8. Gutiérrez Nájera, Lourdes, ‘Hayandose: Zapotec Migrant Expressions of Membership and Belonging’, in Beyond El Barrio: Everyday Life in Latina/o America, edited by Gina M. Pérez, Frank A. Guridy and Adrian Burgos, Jr. (New York and London: New York University Press, 2010), pp.63-80.
  9. Hogg, M.A., & Abrams, D. Social identifications: A Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations and Group Processes. (London and New York: Routledge, 1998).
  10. Maslow, Abraham. H., ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’, in Psychological Review, 50(4), (American Psychological Association, 1943), pp.370-396.
  11. Spergel, I.A., The Youth Gang Problem – A Community Approach. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
  12. TEDx Talks, (2018). I was an MS-13 gang member. Here’s how I got out – Gerardo Lopez. [Online Video]. Available at: [Accessed 10. Jan. 2019].
  13. Trump, D. (2018). President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address 2018. [Online]. 30 January 2018, United States Capitol, Washington. Available at: [Accessed 12. Jan. 2019]. Full transcript available at: [Accessed 12. Jan. 2019].
  14. U.S. Department of Justice. (2015). About violent gangs. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 11. Jan. 2019].
  15. Way, Niobe, ‘Intimacy, Desire, and Distrust in the Friendships of Adolescent Boys’, in Adolescent Boys: Exploring Diverse Cultures of Boyhood, edited by Niobe Way and Judy Y. Chu (New York: New York University Press, 2004), pp.167-196. Available at: [Accessed 12. Jan. 2019].
  16. Wolseth, Jon, ‘Good Times and Bad Blood: Violence, Solidarity, and Social Organization on Dominican Streets’, in Youth Violence in Latin America: Gangs and Juvenile Justice in Perspective, edited by Gareth A. Jones and Dennis Rodgers. (New York and Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), pp. 63-82.
  17. Zambrana, R. E., Latinos in American Society – Families and Communities in Transition. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2011).

Make sure you submit a unique essay

Our writers will provide you with an essay sample written from scratch: any topic, any deadline, any instructions.

Cite this Page

Systematic Issues in US Causing Youth Violence among Gang Cultures in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 29, 2023, from
“Systematic Issues in US Causing Youth Violence among Gang Cultures in Spain, Portugal and Latin America.” Edubirdie, 01 Feb. 2023,
Systematic Issues in US Causing Youth Violence among Gang Cultures in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Sept. 2023].
Systematic Issues in US Causing Youth Violence among Gang Cultures in Spain, Portugal and Latin America [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Feb 01 [cited 2023 Sept 29]. Available from:
Join 100k satisfied students
  • Get original paper written according to your instructions
  • Save time for what matters most
hire writer

Fair Use Policy

EduBirdie considers academic integrity to be the essential part of the learning process and does not support any violation of the academic standards. Should you have any questions regarding our Fair Use Policy or become aware of any violations, please do not hesitate to contact us via

Check it out!
search Stuck on your essay?

We are here 24/7 to write your paper in as fast as 3 hours.